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Tableau: How to transform your meetings with data

17 Nov 2017

Meetings are an essential and unavoidable practice in business.

According to authors Michael C Mankin and Eric Garton in their book Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, senior executives now spend the equivalent of two days a week in meetings, and the average organisation spends 15% of its collective time in meetings.

As such, it’s more important than ever to be productive and use this time efficiently.

The catalyst for many meetings is to review a time-sensitive issue or incite a team discussion.

But more importantly, to maximise time and effort, it’s essential that meeting leaders have gathered and shared all of the information needed to inform the discussion.

The research from Mankin and Garton shows almost two-thirds of meetings run out of time before an employee can make an important decision.

Surely adding an extra 30-minutes to every agenda is the fix? Not exactly.

It is most often a lack of information, not time, that drives inefficiency and renders many meetings completely futile.

Rather than scrapping all meetings in favor of a flurry of emails, why not rethink the approach to information sharing and bring data to the heart of your next discussion?

Rethinking the approach to data

We know a lack of information is driving meeting inefficiency yet determining how that information is shared is also paramount.

Businesses everywhere are finding new ways to be data-driven yet the approach to utilising data in meetings is still catching up.

Using today’s best technology, data that was once in the background can now take centre stage. It can be visualised, interpreted and actioned upon comfortably in a meeting and help drive the business forward.

Forward motion

Everyone can relate to the experience of desperately trying (and often failing) to follow a text-heavy PowerPoint or quickly find insights across rows upon rows in Excel.

The ability to change the outcome of meetings relies on a fresh way of looking at data, and displaying static screenshots of unwieldy spreadsheets is not the most effective solution.

Visually analysing data (being able to actually interact with and dig into data while watching for insights) means teams can ask and answer questions during a meeting – often in real-time – accelerating decision-making, collaboration and boosting productivity.

When static data points become interactive, visual dashboards, team members can quickly assess the business challenges and begin to spot trends and outliers in the data that drive solutions, often leading to immediate business benefits.

A level playing field

The right tools make data visual, accessible and easy to understand.

This levels the playing field and ensures anyone – not just executives or data scientists – can draw insights.

By sharing the latest data, everyone in attendance is updated instantly and are able to explore outliers or trends as a group. To avoid repetitive questions or confusion, data points tied to key business initiatives should be visually clear, interactive and descriptive.

With this data-friendly approach, meetings begin with all participants on the same page, furthering collaboration amongst the group and keeping the meeting’s true purpose (and the data informing it) the focus.

Having the right information also enables everyone in a meeting to challenge the status quo and spend less time asking ‘what’ and more time exploring solutions and asking ‘why.’

A change of mindset

We often become stuck with a cyclical approach towards meetings, checking them off our weekly lists and scheduling more out of routine than necessity.

A break from this repetitive attitude requires shifting to a data-driven mindset. We need to move away from reading out a checklist of tasks to a room of nodding heads.

A good place to start is identifying the people within your organisation who are data-savvy.

With the help of these ‘data champions,’ organisations can educate and empower employees on the benefits of using visual analytics to speed up decisions both in the boardroom and in their daily work.

By taking a new approach and putting data at the heart of discussions, employees will almost certainly spend more time discussing solutions and driving improvements across the business.

Productive meetings are not dictated by the amount of time spent in a room, but by effectively using data to drive informed, timely decisions which lead to positive business outcomes.

Article by Nigel Mendonca, Country Manager, Tableau Software ANZ

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